Tag Archive | "small businesses"

5 Tips for Building Strong Relationships With Clients

Forming strong relationships in every area of life is an essential component to success, reported Entrepreneur. The relationships you’ve formed with various types of people in many different areas of your life can serve as a foundation for your creating strong ties with clients.

It’s always worthwhile, though, to reflect on what truly makes a relationship last.

Forging solid business relationships seems simple on the surface, but these ties require time, effort and tact. Developing and maintaining these connections can sometimes feel draining and even burdensome, but the rewards can be significant. A personal connection, whether developed over weeks, months or years, can lead to positive word-of-mouth, increased sales, additional connections, job security and even more job satisfaction.

Keep the following tips in mind and strengthen the most important aspect of your business, the relationships you have with your customer base:

1. Treat others the way you want to be treated. This classic lesson seems like the simplest of tasks: Yet it is often the one that’s most forgotten. When engaging in business with a customer, it is important to put yourselves in their shoes and provide the same level of customer service and respect that you would expect.

2. Honesty is key. Stretching the truth about your products or services in any way can seriously hinder your reputation. If you are able to be honest and realistic about any services that your business cannot provide, your customers will appreciate this honesty more than you may realize and a foundation for a lasting relationship can develop.

3. Remember that your customers as people, not numbers. After your first conversation with a client, this is your chance to remember not only the name but something about the individual as a person. It is likely that remembering a fact about will help you remember how your business can suit the person’s needs. And these little details can have a big impact on building the relationship.

4. Keep things lighthearted. Nothing is more upsetting than asking for a product and having a small business clerk or owner be completely rude. Making fun of yourself will help the client feel more comfortable so that he or she can better open up to you about a need.

5. Be cognizant of your body language. People can tell, consciously and subconsciously, how you feel about being around them. Keeping your arms and legs uncrossed, smiling and making eye contact are all great ways to ensure that a customer remembers interacting with you.

Remember that each connection is unique and should be treated as such. Often the best tactic is to just be yourself and not overthink things. Take a genuine interest in a relationship and the rest will take care of itself.

While meaningful relationships, professional or otherwise, require significant time and effort to build, they often fall apart much more quickly. Take a relationship for granted, expect too much or appear apathetic, and rapport will deteriorate in a hurry.

Forming long-lasting, meaningful relationships is vital to any organization’s success. So avoid these pitfalls and instead reap the rewards of positive, mutually beneficial business relationships throughout your career.

Posted in Small Business TipsComments (0)

What You Need for a Small Business Loan

People often ask how to get a loan to start a business, or what type of documentation is needed to apply for a small business loan. Fox Business reports, that although every bank has its own requirements, many documents are mandatory across lenders. Before applying, here are the basic small business loan requirements to keep in mind.

Loan Application Form: Many of the biggest banks – and some of the smaller ones – have invested in technology that will allow online small business loan applications. However, far too many banks still require would-be borrowers to come into their branches and fill out paper applications in order to get funding. Applying for loans at multiple institutions can be harmful because each one will do a hard pull of your business credit history. The more hard pulls, the less chances you have of getting money because the banks interpret it as a sign of desperation that you are shopping around. Thus, they will question your creditworthiness.

Personal Information: Banks expect borrowers to provide basic personal background information. This data includes current and previous addresses, aliases, criminal record (if any), educational level, and other information.

Business Plan: Anyone looking to secure a small business bank loan should have a business plan. The document provides a detailed explanation of what the business is and where the owner hopes to take it. The business plan should include:

  1. Executive Summary: A one-page explanation of the business, its goals, operations, marketing efforts, and revenue model is very important. In fact, it may be the only portion of the business plan that a loan officer will bother to read, so be sure that it is succinct.
  2. Business Description: What does the company do? How will it make a profit?
  3. Local Market and Competitive Landscape: Describe where the business will be based and who the target audience will be. Assess the competition as objectively as possible and then describe how you plan to differentiate your business.
  4. Product or Service: Explain how your product or service works. Highlight what makes your business one that will attract customers.
  5. Sales, Marketing and Promotion: Outline how you will inform the marketplace about your company and build awareness. Describe the marketing tools you will use, including a web site, advertising, public relations (traditional and social media), trade shows, sampling, sales promotions, etc.
  6. Management Team: Describe who will run the business and their experience level(s).
  7. Financial Data: Provide a break-even analysis, cash flow projection, sample balance sheet and profit-and-loss statements.
  8. Investment Information: Lenders want to know how much money the owners are putting into the company. If you are unwilling to invest much of your own money into it, investors will be wary about doing so. Provide an estimate of sales, revenues, and what type of return investors can expect.
  9. Appendices: Any research you have conducted, charts, graphs, logos, and other images.

Personal Credit Report: Your lender will obtain your personal credit report as part of the application process. However, you should obtain a credit report from all three major consumer credit rating agencies before submitting a loan application to the lender. Inaccuracies and blemishes on your credit report can hurt your chances of getting a small business loan approved. It’s critical you try to clear up any discrepancies before beginning the loan application process.

Business Credit Report: If you are already in business, be prepared to submit a credit report for your company. It is important to review your business’ credit report before beginning the application process. A score of 650 or higher generally is considered a good score. If your business credit score is 600 or lower, you may have a difficult time securing financing from a traditional lender, such as a bank or credit union.

There are tried and true ways to increase your business credit score if you have a poor history or perhaps no credit history at all. Clearing up past-due debts and opening business credit cards and paying the monthly balances in full and on time are steps in the right direction.

Income Tax Returns: Most banks require applicants to submit personal income tax and business income tax returns for the previous three years. Providing business tax returns for a startup is difficult, of course. For new businesses, the personal return carries a lot of weight.

Financial Statements: Banks typically look for profit and loss (P&L) documents, cash flow statements, and a balance sheet. Many lenders require one year of personal and business bank statements to be submitted as part of a loan package.

Collateral: Some financial institutions do not require collateral, but many of them do. Loans involving a high degree of risk will require substantial collateral. Lenders want to know the cost/value of personal or business property that will be used to secure a loan.

Legal Documents: Banks may require borrowers to submit the following items:

  • Articles of Incorporation, which may be filed by an attorney or a service provider
  • Franchise agreements
  • Business licenses and registrations required for you to conduct business
  • Copies of contracts you might have with any third parties

Banks, both large and small, and credit unions often have similar lending criteria. Many big banks turn away requests for startup loans because of their requirements of providing three years worth of financial data. In such cases, smaller, regional banks and credit unions may be more favorable. They understand the local environment better and are vested in helping local businesses grow.

Since the crash of Lehman Brothers and the ensuing “credit crunch,” the approval of SBA-backed loans (with 75% guarantees) have become increasingly popular. Each year, the SBA seems to report new records in funding amounts. However, as with any transaction involving government entities, there is much paperwork to be filed and the process can become very time consuming.

For borrowers who need money quickly or who have poor credit scores – or perhaps no credit history at all – alternative lenders is an option to consider. Cash advance companies, microlenders and CDFIs are often willing to lend when traditional institutions will not. However, the money comes with a premium price; some lenders charge 30-40% interest on the loans. Before you know these details before signing on the dotted line.

Peer-to-peer (P2P) lending has grown tremendously in the past few years, but it is a form of financing more common for startups, non-profits, and artistic ventures. P2P lending is a challenge for businesses that are not sexy – like construction companies, for example. Further, there are certain types of professionals, including doctors and dentists, who may not want to be seen having to raise money in such a manner.

Posted in Small Business TipsComments (0)

6 Ways to Get Even the Most Difficult Clients on Board

When it comes to clients, some are more difficult to land–and work with– than others. What is the most successful thing you can do to get a difficult client to buy into your idea, product, or service? Inc. asked members of the Entrepreneurs’ Organization to provide their best advice.

Stand your ground.

A client wanted us to build some complex custom software within an aggressive deadline and budget. I had to stand my ground and calmly assert that we had carefully reviewed his request, and that our best solution was far outside his desired parameters. These conversations were difficult, but I knew that if we acquiesced, we would set unrealistic expectations for the client. It is much better to be forthright at the start than to pretend it would all work out.
–Tim Hamilton, founder and CEO, Astonish Design; EO Austin

Show the full process.

Clients who don’t understand the process are usually classified as “difficult.” For most, the solution is to visualize the process. What has worked for us is to show examples of past project schedules and the associated deliverables so the client knows what to look forward to. We do this during the sales process and initial engagement. Once expectations are aligned, it’s easy to work with the client to get what is needed and keep things on track.
–Ali Allage, CEO, Boost Labs, LLC; EO DC

Leverage what you know.

A great product or service can break the ice when meeting a new client. Let them try! When we visit a big client for the first time, we bring fresh Maine lobster and make lobster rolls right in the conference room. It may be a little easier for us with food, but it can work for many businesses.
–Dan Zawacki, president, Lobster Gram; EO Chicago

Use data.

One thing I’ve done is leverage data to drive narrative and influence the client’s decision making. Clients can always argue against hunches and perspectives, but using data that we all agree is valid can define the context around the decision and showcase the rationale behind recommendations. In other words, truth is truth, and being transparent makes disagreements less likely.
–Jake Finkelstein, president and CEO, Method Savvy; EO Raleigh Durham

Make a personal visit.

I make it a point to visit difficult clients in person. I ask a question and listen intently while not allowing myself to get defensive. Furthermore, I focus all of my energy on the customer’s body language, the tone of his or her voice, and the words he or she uses. When I do this, I learn more about my company and my people than any other way I know. If you want to know what someone is thinking, sit down with that person, ask him or her, and just listen!
–Doug Picatti, vice president of sales and marketing, Picatti Brothers; EO Las Vegas

Provide personal endorsements.

The most effective thing we’ve done is to provide clients with personal endorsements from existing clients. These references can be a few sentences, case studies, or direct telephone calls. We’ve found that when things get sticky, client references are the great “un-sticker.” Nothing beats a personal endorsement.
–Kraettli Epperson, president, R7 Solutions; EO Oklahoma

Posted in Small Business TipsComments (0)

Advice for Small Businesses Considering Dropping Health Coverage

Via Bloomberg:

Question: Our business has 30 employees. Our current group health insurance premium was increased so much this year that we cannot continue to offer coverage. If we were to drop our insurance and agree to pay workers an amount equal to what we pay for the insurance, would it be cost-effective? What are the implications of such a move?

Answer: This is a question that a lot of small business owners are asking these days, according to insurance and tax professionals around the country. That’s probably because providing health insurance is so costly—and the Affordable Care Act may give your employees better options.

Providing health coverage costs an average of $9,300 annually per employee, according to TriNet, a human resource and payroll provider, with employers picking up $6,700 of that cost each year, on average, the company says.

Small business owners, in particular, have long been worried about escalating health insurance costs, and the Affordable Care Act has raised their concerns, says Steven J. Friedman, co-chairman of the employee benefit practice group at the law firm of Littler, Mendelson. “There is widespread fear that the ACA will have a significant cost impact,” he says.

Unfortunately, it’s not easy to answer your question, because there are so many potential consequences of dropping insurance coverage, chief among them damage to employee morale and retention. That’s probably why most small businesses seem to be sticking with the status quo, Friedman says: “No employer wants to be the first to declare they’re going to cut health-care coverage and give people a stipend.”

Let’s unpack some of the issues you raise. First, because you have fewer than 50 full-time employees, your company is not required to offer health insurance. Your employees, however, are required to have coverage or pay a penalty under the ACA. If they buy insurance though the Obamacare exchanges, they could get government subsidies to help them with the cost. More than 80 percent of the individuals who enrolled for 2014 were eligible for such subsidies, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

That means low-income to moderate-income employees may be able to get better coverage for less. Subsidies are available for individuals making up to $45,960 in annual income and up to $94,200 for a family of four.

Also consider the demographics of your workforce. Older individuals buying individual coverage for the first time may be hit with sticker shock, because insurers charge more to cover older people. That could create problems if you’re concerned about retaining your long-term, more experienced employees. “To go to your employees and say we’re throwing you out into the Wild West, go out and find your own coverage—even if you’re subsidizing—may not go over well, especially [among] older employees and those who will get zero subsidy,” says Hugo R. Sibrian, chief executive officer and president of Benefits & Risk Solutions, an employee benefit consultant.

There are tax consequences, as well. Right now, what you pay for your group plan is tax-deductible, and employees’ contributions to their health premiums are made pretax as well. That lowers your total cost of compensation and thus the total amount you pay in payroll taxes for each employee. You’ll lose both those advantages if you drop your group plan, and federal and state taxes will be deducted from the additional money you give employees to buy their own coverage—causing another potential pain point.

Still, the strategy you’re contemplating is increasingly discussed among employers and insurers. “Once the snowball starts rolling down the hill, it may be that employers in lower-paying industries start shedding group coverage, and it works out better for them and their employees in the long run,” Friedman says.

There’s also a whole industry of private exchanges that let you contribute a fixed sum to employees’ premiums and allow them to choose from a menu of different plans. Intuit Online Payroll offers a health benefit marketplace service that lets you contribute as much or as little as you want to each employee’s cost for health insurance. That amount is then automatically added to every paycheck, says the company’s senior tax analyst, Mike D’Avolio.

Before you make a decision, investigate whether your state offers a small-group insurance option through the Small Employer Health Options Program (SHOP) marketplaces, advises Linda Blumberg, senior fellow at the Urban Institute’s Health Policy Center. You can browse plans and order coverage through a broker on the federal site at healthcare.gov, and 15 states are up and running with their own SHOP exchanges.

Posted in Small Business TipsComments (0)

How to Protect Your Small Business Tech

Via Fox Business:

Antivirus software hasn’t been the saving grace for some time now, yet many small business owners think it is. As long as their antivirus software is up to date they assume they are in the clear. Not so.

Unfortunately the business of hacking has changed dramatically, putting small businesses in serious risk if they only rely on antivirus software.

“Antivirus from a technology perspective is dead because antivirus technology is a decade old,” says Greg Martin, chief executive of ThreatStream, a threat intelligence company. “The market shifted so much in terms of what the bad guys are using.”

Antivirus does have a place in an overall security plan, but thinking it’s all you need to protect your systems is foolish. The level of sophistication among computer hackers has increased dramatically requiring new tools and techniques to prevent a system from getting infiltrated. Most of the new attacks come in from the Web browser and use social engineering to get you to click on a link, whether it’s in an email or on a Website.

Not to mention the antivirus tools that are built directly into the Windows 7 and 8 operating systems as well as Apple’s OS makes purchasing a standalone antivirus software package pointless.

“Antivirus is for the common cold the new threat detection (software) is for the flu,” says Joe Loomis, Chief Executive of security company CyberSponse. “They will always sell common cold medicine over the counter but you also need the new antibiotics and remedies.”

For small businesses that have long relied on antivirus software for their protection they now have to do more. After all, if their computers are hacked and customer information is accessed, it could spell the end to the business.

One of the first things small business owners need to do, say security experts, is to ensure you have an up-to-date operating system that is fully patched — whether it’s from Microsoft or Apple. According to Martin, with the new operating systems security is built in and the updates are done automatically, so the business owner won’t have to do a lot of additional things to make sure the OS is secure

How you and your employees surf the Web also matters. Loomis says companies should treat Internet usage in the same way you deal with sexual harassment awareness. That means having clear policies in writing, hosting classes to reinforce the rules and holding employees who don’t follow them accountable.

He also says you need password policies on the books, and you must enforce the changing of them often. The passwords also have to be tough. It doesn’t hurt to block the use of social media during work hours unless it’s needed for the job.

“Security has to be taken seriously,” says Loomis. “It’s not just when it’s convenient and they can’t use the excuse they didn’t know.”

Martin also says small businesses owners have to stay on top of updating their Adobe Flash and/or Java.

“These things get targeted the most in modern cyber-attacks,” says Martin. “You have to make sure when a pop up to update Flash or Java appears that you click yes.”

Posted in Small Business TipsComments (0)

8 Easy Ways Small Businesses Keep up With Technology

Via Huffington Post:

As a small business owner, you have plenty of things to do.

From working with clients to preparing your end of year tax statements, technology has the potential to improve every aspect of your business.

The question is this: how do you stay on top of all the new developments in business, your industry, and in technology in general?

For successful business, there is no clear-cut answer. You can’t just wave a magic wand, subscribe to one service, and get all of the tools that you need to run your business more effectively. Fortunately, there are a number of ways that you can streamline different aspects of your business operation. Implementing only one of these methods will dramatically improve the operation of your business, while utilizing more than one method will make your business unrecognizable.

1. Utilizing Cloud-Based Tools to Improve Information Availability

The biggest problem that most modern small businesses face isn’t the actual finding of information; many businesses actually struggle with making that information available to their employees in a timely manner. Using private networks is a secure choice, but the setup and maintenance of that type of network is best left for Fortune 500 companies, not small businesses.

Fortunately, small businesses have a number of great cloud-based storage options available to them, including:

  • Dropbox
  • Box.net
  • Barracuda
  • Amazon Cloud Drive
  • Google Drive
  • Apple iCloud

Each of these services can serve as a great file-sharing tool, but many of them also offer file backups, secure file transfers, and easy file sharing with clients and other outside parties. As a small business, having access to the right file at the right time can help with closing a deal, providing the right information to a client, or it can just make it easier for your employees to get work done while on the road.

2. Improving Customer Relationships with Universal CRM Applications

Aside from making sure that the right information is available to the right people at the right time, it’s essential that employees of a small business can work to the best of their abilities when in front of a client. Knowing everything about the client and their recent interactions with your firm is essential, but if your CRM system is housed on a desktop computer then it can be too far away to be useful in a pinch.

Fortunately, technology has advanced to the point where small businesses have tools that are just as good, if not better, than larger firms. CRM is a prime example, with a number of cloud based systems available that can be used on desktops, laptops, tablets, and smartphones, truly allowing you to put your entire business in your pocket.

Some great cloud based CRM choices include:

  • Salesforce
  • Oracle Sales Cloud
  • SugarCRM
  • Insightly
  • Nimble
  • Streak CRM

3. Staying On Top Of Market Trends with Social Media

As a business, you need to go where your competitors, and more importantly your customers are going. Keeping up with common market trends and staying up to date with influential people in your industry is as simple as ever with access to social media tools that filter data for you. Tools like Followerwonk for Twitter allow you to search and optimize your social growth and targeting.

4. Staying Up To Date on Your Industry with RSS

Let’s face it, you probably find most industry news online. Even most trade journals have the same news available on their website. You probably spend much of your time trying to stay up on that news, surfing from site to site, just looking for something that you haven’t read yet.

Instead of spending too much time doing that, it’s far easier to utilize an RSS reader like Digg Reader to condense all of your news sources and present them to you in an automatically updated list. The best part is that it’s free to use.

5. Interacting With Customers through Social Media Scheduling

Are you struggling to post to social media, even though you know that it’s the right thing to do for your business? You’re not alone; many people find that having a social media presence for their business can take hours away from actually running their company.

Instead of sitting there and sipping from the social media fire hose, you can just as easily use common tools like Buffer to schedule social media posts in batches, allowing you to sit down and schedule your posts for the next month in just a few hours.

Stop letting social media dictate the amount of time that you spend on other areas of your business. Schedule your social media interactions with a social media scheduling tool and you will free up hours of time per week.

6. Spying On Competitors with Business Intelligence Tools

One of the best ways to beat your competitors at their own game is by figuring out what they are doing, and then doing it better. If your competitors are advertising online, you have two options: you can either go out and search for all of their advertisements (almost impossible to do in practice), or you can utilize a tool that does it for you.

Tools like WhatRunsWhere constantly scan the Internet for advertisements in your demographic, allowing you to see the exact ads that your competitors are using against you. That level of knowledge will dramatically improve your marketing efforts and give you a permanent leg up on the competition.

7. Improving Financial Intelligence with Cloud Accounting

Finding out what your P&L looks like on a quarterly basis should be reserved for publicly traded companies and those that did business before computers were invented. For the small business, you can utilize a variety of tools to manage every aspect of your business’s financial life, helping you get a daily snapshot of where your business is making and losing you money. The best part is you can tie many of the applications that you use to run your business together, syncing transactions and making end of year tax accounting a breeze.

Accounting Software (also with invoicing capabilities):

  • Quickbooks Online
  • Xero
  • Wave
  • Kashoo
  • Kashflow

Invoicing (Only) Software:

  • Freshbooks
  • Harvest
  • Invoiceable

8. Tying It All Together With Process Automation

Let’s say that you decide to implement all of the above seven methods of using technology to streamline your business. What you will probably find is that you’ve solved many of the problems that you previously had, however those problems were replaced with the stress of actually figuring out how to get all of these programs to interact with each other.

Just having your CRM talk to your accounting software can be a lesson in frustration, unless you have something that handles that communication for you. Tools like Zapier allow you to set up rules that create certain actions (like adding a new customer to your accounting system when you add a name to a group in your CRM) that will take much of the maintenance out of the managing your new systems.

Technology can do so much to help a small business, and in the 21st Century it’s essential that leverage technology whenever possible to keep up with your industry.

Try implementing one of the above methods today, and you will find that your productivity immediately takes a turn for the better.

Posted in Small Business TipsComments (0)